The age of diesel arrives

Andy Motherwell tells of the introduction of diesel trucks to the forest industry

This photo is of the first diesel Kenworth hauling green lumber from the Wells area in 1987.

This photo is of the first diesel Kenworth hauling green lumber from the Wells area in 1987.

In the early years of major forestry development, small sawmills sprang up everywhere and led to the growth of a lumber trucking industry. Many of those contractors have passed on, but the memory them is important as they opened much of the Cariboo forest to growth.

Roads were very rough trails subject to frost boils, sudden water springs, flooding and snow plowing and sanding were techniques that seldom existed compared to current practices.

Of course, the trucks used ranged from single axle (of various sizes) to tandem axle (a later development.)

Many names come to mind from that period – Les Thede, Mike Worchal, Mike Kohanko, Stan McRae, Bill Richter and Dave Morgan (in the photo.)

Weigh scales had not been installed yet and the only limits were 12-feet high and eight-feet wide for the load (which often exceeded.)

The drivers were a vital link between town and the bush. Camp supplies were often ordered, picked up and delivered by the drivers including crew members – some coming, some leaving.

In the colder weather of that period, diesel oil jelled and the equipment stopped (that included cats, trucks and mill engines.) Kerosene, in a measured amount, thinned the diesel so it ran again. Warming the engines was essential as heat sure helped. Water condensation was a problem with both gas and diesel motors. A.L. Patchett filled his Jeep pickup to the brim every evening to reduce the condensation, others followed suit. Gas line anti freeze came later. Electric plug-ins were non existent. A small fire under the oil pan was common.

The first trucker out spent a lonely time sanding the hills (with clay from the roadside), which those following used with ease.

Cycle time was essentially as short as possible and in pursuit of another load, bigger engines became popular. In the photo, Stan McRae installed a 335 hp Cummins and a transmission with five gears in the main and four gears in the auxiliary to haul the load. If Dave Morgan, the driver, is under six-feet-tall, how high is the total load? The load came from the Wells Barkerville sawmill, delivered to the A.L. Patchett planer mill across from forestry. Walter Graf unloaded the truck.

Wells was a deep snow location and plowing with a D7 cat was common. Weather forecasting was mostly by sight, not by meteorology. On one trip in the 1960s, a truck slipped on an icy corner at Slough Creek and the driver was trapped underneath where the hot oils burned him severely until passersby released him. Truck radios have made things much safer, as has sanding and plowing.

Andy Motherwell is an amateur historian and regular Observer columnist.

Quesnel Cariboo Observer

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